I spent most of
my childhood searching garage sales and Goodwill stores ferreting out
the gems of my future sound systems: speakers. They were big; they were
ugly; they were pre-historic, but they could be repaired and combined
into an unmatched generator of noise (as long as you didnt play it very
loud). I woke every morning to a 19-inch mid-range Id salvaged from the
closet of the nearby movie theater, rigged via a little experimentation
to the sound output of my five-dollar alarm clock (I just wasnt waking
up anymore I needed something with a volume control). It was the next
logical step after Id modified my speakerphone for surround sound and a
headset. By the time I graduated high school, I had three separate
amplifiers driving independent systems for my TV, CD Player, and
telephone. By the time I hit university, there were five different
locations in my room you could sit for perfect surround sound. I had
them all measured and marked.
It seems natural to me, then, that when Altec Lansing sent us their
high-end 5100 series six-piece speaker system, Id get a chance to take
a gander at it. "Just listen to this!" it declares on the side of the
box, and I was all too happy to unplug my existing system to do just
that. My verdict? Sometimes, no matter what the tinkering, a second hand
sound system just cant match ears with a first-rate purchased sound
machine. When doing what its designed to do, Altec Lansings 5100
Gaming Theater produces a sound that is clear and ambient, and will
leave you wondering how you got by without a six-piece system in the
past. Being able to tell the location of your enemies from their
footsteps alone takes the gaming experience to an entirely new level,
sort of the difference between going out to the movies or watching a
video on your thirteen inch TV.
In fact, my complaints with the system (there are a few) have nothing
to do with the sound the system produces, which is really very good.
Instead, my complaints fall in the physical setup category. Audio wise,
the 100-watt system produces a strong well-balanced mix of music.
Designed for the close range often required for good sound for one or
two users in front of a computer, the five satellite speakers (including
the center channel) are all well balanced with the bass. The remote
control, one of the more classy features of the system, looks and feels
high quality; allowing you to adjust such things as bass (this baby can
pump out bass, believe me), treble, system volume, and center and back
volume all from the comfort of your reclining chair. The amplifier,
built into the bass speaker, is designed to be able to accept
independent channels for the front, back, and center speakers, allowing
for true directional surround sound. Not to fear for those of us without
surround sound outputs on our computers and TVs, the 5100 series can be
set for three different modes to accommodate various input channels
(Stereo 2X, 4.1 Gaming, 5.1 surround). Everything you need to set up the
system, whether youre using it for console gaming or computer driven
audio, comes in the box. I was really rather impressed at how thoroughly
theyd prepared the system for a wide variety of uses. I never found
myself hunting down additional wiring for my initial setup.
Most of my difficulties with the setup come from rather minor, common
sense complaints. For example, the bass speaker isnt shielded it
states in the manual that it should be kept a minimum of two feet from
all monitors and digital media storage like disk drives or distortion
occurs (the colors on the monitor tend to separate, and data tends to
disappear). In a lot of ways, this sort of eliminates the place Lansing
recommends it be placed, which is under your computer desk (which
happens to be where I store things like
well, my computer and media).
Who would have thought? No problem. The best location for a bass speaker
is directly behind where youre sitting anyway, with the satellite
speakers just at or above ear level. I moved it there. This presented a
problem. The powered amp is located in the bass speaker, which means all
your inputs have to run from the back of your computer to the bass, and
then from the bass to the rest of the speakers. This virtually
guarantees that the sound source, generally in front of you, is always
going to be the farthest piece of equipment from where it needs to
reach, the bass speaker, which is ideally behind you. It then takes
another wire to run from the bass back to the center speaker, which will
be positioned on top of the computer monitor (or there about) once again
in front of you. Is this a minor complaint? Yes. In fact, I may be the
only one who would ever complain about it, since I tend to take pride in
building a system that produces really good sound, but is virtually
invisible to the naked eye. On the highest end system, I want everything
flawless. People who want OK sound dont buy top of the line equipment.
It gives me a right to be picky.
Probably a bigger complaint is the noticeable lack of a left/right
balance. Admittedly, most computers will be able to adjust this, but if
used with a DVD player or a console gaming system (which the box claims
the system can be used for) a left/right balance might not be available.
This limits the flexibility of the system. In an ideal world, all sound
rooms would be rectangle, and set up for perfect speaker placement. In
reality, my living room is too long, and too narrow. My couch is in the
wrong place, and these speakers while mounted on nice, solid feeling
metal bases are not designed to be mounted on the wall. By matter of
circumstances, my left front and back speakers are farther from where I
sit than my right front and back speakers. The result is that I always
develop a headache on the right side of my head before my left.
Normally, the left/right balance could be used to level out my headache
placement. As it is, my artistic right brain ends up feeling tired and
worn out before my logistic left has had a good enough gaming dose. Its
a horrible, horrible thing. More importantly, it represents a flaw in my
perfect audio system, and after paying nearly two hundred dollars Id be
rather frustrated by that.
But thats it. Aside from those complaints, which amount to having to
run additional wire, the lack of a left/right balance, and my inability
to mount the satellites on the wall, Altec Lansing has done an
extraordinary job with the 5100 series. For shear sound quality, there
are few systems that can compete with Lansing. They simply know how to
produce a good sound in a tiny speaker. For basic, out of the box sound,
quick setup, and ease of use, the 5100 is really quite superb I am in
no way disappointed in the sound quality produced by the system. Im
thrilled in fact. My movies have never sounded so good, my games never
so immersive. If youre a true gamer, a true movie enthusiast, you need
a good sound system, and after you get the 5100 set up just right youll
never want to go back to another brand. The auxiliary input allows you
to use the system for other purposes as well. Plug in your iPod or CD
player and youll quickly find yourself in a room full of rich, ambient
music -- one of my passions in life. Now excuse me, I think I hear my
sound system calling me. I have to go spend some quality time with it.
My motto: See the explosion. Hear the rumble. Feel the experience.
Note: A common problem in this sort of system is a slight buzz that
emits from the speakers when nothing is playing, but an audio source
(such as a turned off Xbox or VCR) is connected. This often happens when
the amp is plugged into a different power socket than the audio source.
The grounds between two electrical sockets can have slightly different
charges, and this translates into a buzz on the sound system. If you
hear a slight buzz when the system is powered but not playing music,
check to make sure that all the system is plugged into the same outlet
(with a bass amp located several feet away from your source, this is
actually quite likely).